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Sri Lanka President Rajapaksa visits Tamil city Jaffna

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Jaffna

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa
The Tamil-dominated north is not Mr Rajapaksa's natural constituency

Sri Lanka's president has addressed a crowd of his supporters on a rare visit to the northern city of Jaffna, which was once held by the Tamil Tigers.

Mahinda Rajapaksa said development was his priority, rather than the political reforms which some believe are needed to solve the country's ethnic problems.

The president's visit comes a week before parliamentary elections that his ruling coalition is expected to win.

He was re-elected in January, eight months after the Tamil Tigers' defeat.

The rebels fought for 26 years for an independent state for Tamils.

'Racial politics'

Mr Rajapaksa was greeted with great fanfare at the rally organised by his party in Jaffna, which the Tigers made the capital of a breakaway Tamil-ruled statelet for five years in the early 1990s.

We are the children of one mother
Mahinda Rajapaksa
Sri Lankan President

But this city in the Tamil-dominated north is not his natural constituency.

The crowd was extremely small and was dwarfed by the venue, a sports stadium.

Many of those present were loyal supporters of Mr Rajapaksa's main local political ally.

The president reached out to them, speaking much of the time in Tamil.

He declared that from now on there would be no racial divisions in Sri Lanka.

"We are the children of one mother," he said.

He also said, more controversially, that "racial politics" would not have a place in future - a possible indication that he will seek to revive a recently tabled plan to ban parties with words such as "Tamil" or "Muslim" in their name.

Some local people told the BBC that they appreciated the normality of life now that the government had won the civil war.

Others said Tamils faced special problems which had to be addressed.

Though his support seems thin in the north, most predict that Mr Rajapaksa's government will easily win next week's election.



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